Sam Holstein

5 Sad Things People with Personality Disorders Wish You Understood

5 Sad Things People with Personality Disorders Wish You Understood

I’ve been sitting on a secret. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder a year and a half ago. Nine months ago, after a brief stay in an inpatient mental hospital, I began active outpatient treatment. This consists of therapy one to three times a week and accompanying homework. It’s like being in school, or having a second job, except I don’t make any money from it and no one’s going to give me a degree when I’m finished. I have to do all this just to be normal. 

I’ve wanted to write about this so many times over the last year, but I haven’t because of the enormous stigma. 

People with Borderline are considered unstable. When I come out to new friends as having Borderline, they sometimes wonder whether they should continue being friends with me. I didn’t want to come out as Borderline on my blog because I enjoy my life as a self-help writer and didn’t want to lose the audience I’d painstakingly built because of a diagnosis over which I have no control.

But as the months have passed, the stigma against people with personality disorders has become an increasingly painful part of my life. It’s difficult for me to even make friends without having to dance awkwardly around the topic, and it’s hard for me to write stories about my life without mentioning the long hours I spend in therapy or the things I learn there.

I’m tired of dancing. I just want to live my life like anyone else. 

Here are the things I wish you knew so I don’t have to dance anymore.

#1: Personality Disorders are Extremely Common

People talk about those with personality disorders like personality disorders are rare and frightening to behold, but personality disorders are extremely common. Of people aged 18 or older in the USA, 9.1% have a personality disorder. That’s nearly one in ten people.

Most people who have a personality disorder don’t know they have one. Many never have the insight required to know they’re suffering and need mental health help. Others get diagnosed by professionals and reject their diagnosis because they aren’t emotionally ready to accept it. 

If you have perpetual trouble with friends or work and haven’t figured out why, you might be the one with a personality disorder.

Even if you don’t have a personality disorder, chances are someone around you does. When you stigmatize people with personality disorders, we can hear you. When you complain loudly about your “crazy narcissistic ex,” I know I can’t be open with you about my mental health struggles because as soon as you hear my diagnosis, you are going to lump me in with your “crazy narcissistic ex” even though you don’t know me at all. 

I meet other people with personality disorders out and about, and when we admit to each other we have a diagnosis, we all feel the same way: the only people we can truly be honest with is each other. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. Personality disorders aren’t necessarily any scarier than depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. If people with OCD or suicidal ideation can be accepted, so can we.

#2: Having a Personality Disorder Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Person

Remember that talk about “crazy narcissistic exes?” People almost always bring it back to a personality disorder diagnosis. He had Narcissistic Personality Disorder, she had Borderline Personality Disorder, you know the story.

I’m not denying there are toxic & abusive people in the world. But personality disorders don’t make people toxic and abusive. That’s like saying someone is a coward because they have Panic Disorder. People with personality disorders are just responding to severe and overwhelming symptoms of mental illness the best they can. 

I’d be denying reality if I said people with personality disorders weren’t more prone to toxic and abusive behaviors. We are. I’ve been toxic and abusive plenty in my life, and I live with the shame every day. But blaming toxic things I’ve done on my personality disorder strips me of my human agency and ensures I’ll never have a chance to make amends. 

Furthermore, plenty of people with personality disorders never become toxic in the first place. There is even a common variant of Borderline Personality Disorder called “quiet Borderline” because of how understated their symptoms seem to those on the outside.

When we say people are toxic and abusive because of personality disorders, people who have personality disorders are less likely to get treatment. They’re less likely to enter therapy, and even if they do enter therapy, they are less likely to accept the diagnosis. 

Clinicians are taught to expect that people with personality disorders will be resistant to diagnosis and treatment. The medical community currently considers this a feature of the personality disorders themselves, but I think it’s a result of the stigmatization of personality disorders. If we were treated with the same level of respect as any other sufferer of mental illness, more people would be willing to accept their diagnosis and get treatment.

This is especially upsetting because…

#3: Personality Disorders are Highly Treatable

Treatment for personality disorders doesn’t get researched much because of the previously mentioned stigma, but wherever treatment is researched, researchers find it’s highly treatable.

Borderline Personality Disorder has received the most research of any personality disorder, and a number of highly effective treatments have been developed. The treatment I’m in, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, puts most patients into remission within two years. There are several other therapy modalities for BPD that are similarly effective if DBT isn’t a good fit. 

Far from being an incurable, lifelong condition, personality disorders can be effectively treated in very short periods of time.

Pretty impressive for such a “terrifying” condition.

#4: People with Personality Disorders Don’t Like Having Them

One of the primary symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is emotional dysregulation, which is therapy-speak for “I get super emotional a lot and don’t always react well.” I’m prone to fits of anger, sudden sobbing, or any number of unpleasant emotional experiences.

These emotional reactions make other people uncomfortable. I try to isolate myself when this happens so other people aren’t affected, but that’s not always possible. 

When it’s not, the people around me treat me like I’ve become radioactive. They keep their distance from me, ignore me, and generally treat me like I’m not there.

If I didn’t have a personality disorder, this reaction would be considered a callous and compassionless response. But because I have a personality disorder, many people find it’s suddenly OK to dismiss or outright ignore my emotional reactions.

But while everyone’s busy feeling sorry for themselves for having to sit through an “awkward moment” with a crying adult woman, they seem to forget that I’m the primary victim of my Borderline. However unpleasant it is for them to be near me while I’m emotionally dysregulated, it is a thousand times more unpleasant to be me. 

When people react to my suffering by ignoring me or leaving, my suffering is compounded. Now, not only am I suffering because of my symptoms, I’m suffering because the people around me responded to my suffering by getting up and leaving. Forget having borderline, that reaction would upset anyone.

When the people around me react by getting up and leaving, I wish more than anything else that I could get up and leave me too. But I can’t. 

There is an uncountable number of stories on the internet that talk about how much it hurts to love someone with a personality disorder, but few that talk about how much it hurts to have a personality disorder.

#5: People with Personality Disorders Are Trying Their Best

We’ve come a long way as a society, but we still stigmatize people who have unstable moods. People are quick to tell me I’m too sensitive or taking things too hard. If they fancy themselves a “blunt” person, they tell me I’m a crybaby. As if all I need to heal from my entrenched personality disorder is the right pep talk.

Believe it or not, it has occurred to me to try these things! I’ve tried many, many times in my life to just chill out, take a breather, not let things get to me. But when I try to suppress my dysregulated emotions, all that happens is they come back later worse than ever. 

Everyone knows suppressing your emotions doesn’t make them go away, and that goes double for the extra-strong emotional symptoms of personality disorders. Believe me, I’ve tried. As a teenager, I cut myself up and down, and as an adult, I’ve gone through several phases of abusing marijuana and alcohol, all in an attempt to “chill out” and “not take things so hard.” 

Self-harming and reckless behavior are considered core features of Borderline, but I don’t think these behaviors come from Borderline itself. I think people with Borderline develop eating disorders, drug addictions, and self-harming habits at alarmingly high rates because that’s what happens when someone’s shamed for emotions they can’t control. 

When I was young and had big intense feelings, I was shamed and called a crybaby. If someone had been there to validate my feelings and teach me healthy coping skills instead, my entire life might have been different.

But I can’t change the past. All I can do now is try my best with what I have, which is what I do every day. Even if it doesn’t look like it to you.

In Conclusion

Stigma against people with personality disorders is still widely accepted in society. Entire industries have cropped up around demonizing people with personality disorders under the guise of helping victims.² But all this does is keep people with personality disorders from seeking treatment. 

Remember this when you’re out and about with your friends. When you hear someone talking about their crazy ex, remember that “crazy ex” may actually just have been someone who was suffering from a personality disorder. Remember not every toxic person has NPD and not everyone that has NPD is a toxic person. 

Remember that person you’re standing next to at the bar might have a personality disorder too. 

1: Which is pathetic, really, because people with mental illnesses are already treated pretty poorly.

2: Not that there’s anything wrong with helping victims. There are a lot of legitimately good and helpful resources for victims out there. But there are some message boards out there on the internet that exist mostly as places for people to shit-talk about those with personality disorders. 

Imagine if there were entire message boards devoted to shit-talking depressed people. “Ugh, how hard they are to be around!” “Why can’t they cheer up already?” “I divorced my depressed husband because he was dragging me down.”

If someone in your past mistreated you, call out the mistreatment, but please, don’t blame it on anything other than the person’s actions.